As a state legislator and business owner, I’m deeply concerned that time is running out to address an important problem facing small companies in Maine and across the country — our nation’s health care crisis.

Because of a discrepancy in the Affordable Care Act, small business owners could see their health care premiums skyrocket when a provision to expand the definition of the small group health insurance market goes into effect in 2016. As a small business owner in Skowhegan and chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Insurance, I am sensitive to the impact this provision, among others, will have on small employers destined to have this cost passed down to them by insurers. This provision will surely increase the cost of premiums in Maine, contrary to our own local efforts to reduce premiums over the same time.

We worked extremely hard in the 125th Legislature to rein in rising premiums in the state and reduce the cost of insurance by implementing pragmatic, market-based solutions. These and other provisions in the ACA will undermine these important efforts, and eventually drive up costs to small businesses. These are expenses small companies in our state cannot afford.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced both in the U.S. House (H.R. 1624) and Senate (S. 1099) to address this problem, and I’m pleased that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, have joined on as co-sponsors.

This is an issue that our entire delegation should work to address. But given how little gets done these days in Washington, I fear this legislation won’t be considered in a timely fashion.

According to a report published in February 2013 by the Small Business Administration, there are more than 143,000 small companies in Maine, representing 97 percent of all employers and providing jobs for more than 282,000 workers — almost 60 percent of our state’s total workforce.

What will happen to these businesses and their employees if they are unable to renew or purchase plans that don’t meet certain standards or are simply too expensive? Many will not be allowed to keep their current coverage or will be faced with expenses that are too costly.

With 2016 just around the corner, health insurance brokers are firming up their product information and rates for next year. Little time remains to rectify this situation, which is why Congress needs to act soon on this important legislation.

Fortunately, Maine has exceptional leaders in Washington who have a long history of fighting for Maine’s business sector. Hopefully, they won’t let us down and will work hard in the coming weeks to push congressional leaders to bring up this issue for a vote. Maine businesses have no appetite for political discourse — especially when it comes to an issue that can have such a profound effect on their future.

Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, is a small business owner and chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Insurance and Financial Services.

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